‘Appalled’ expert: UK vaccine strategy puts world at risk
A Queensland virologist has condemned a "desperate" UK decision to delay giving Brits their second COVID-19 vaccine dose, saying it could put worldwide efforts to contain the virus at risk.
Griffith University's Nigel McMillan said the tactic threatened to result in the emergence of a vaccine-resistant variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
With the pandemic virus overwhelming UK hospitals, particularly in London, Great Britain has announced it is prioritising the administration of the first vaccine dose, with the second jab to be given up to 12 weeks later.
The results from COVID-19 vaccine trials have been based on the second dose being given only three or four weeks after the initial shot.
Professor McMillan said that by extending the second dose to up to 12 weeks after the first, it increased the chances of the virus being exposed to only partially vaccinated people with sub-optimal immune responses, potentially resulting in an "escape mutant".
In other words, a variant that would no longer respond to approved COVID-19 vaccines scheduled to begin being rolled out in Australia next month.
"The UK are in such a bad spot that they have been driven to this desperate move," Professor McMillan said.
"My concern is that this sort of behaviour doesn't just affect the UK. If they get an escape from the vaccine, it will be spread everywhere all over the world. This is a concern for everyone. I know my virology colleagues are concerned.
"I'm kind of appalled."
Greater Brisbane last night emerged from a three-day lockdown triggered by a cleaner working in hotel quarantine developing a highly contagious UK variant of the virus. Her partner has also tested positive to SARS-CoV-2.
The new UK variant was circulating before Great Britain started its first COVID-19 vaccinations.
Professor McMillan praised the Brisbane lockdown response to the variant, dubbed B117, being detected in the Australian community for the first time.
He said if B117 had been allowed to take hold in the Queensland community it would have been "harder to control".
While the lockdown has ended, Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said it was "too early to relax".
She's mandating mask wearing in certain circumstances, such as in shopping centres, cinemas, at gyms and on public transport, for residents in the Brisbane, Ipswich, Logan, Moreton and Redland local government areas until 1am on January 22.
"We're really at the start of understanding this new variant," Dr Young said.
"While we don't know a lot about it, we have to be very cautious."
An investigation into how the virus leaked out of hotel quarantine is underway.
Dr Young said that would determine whether changes to hotel quarantine protocols were needed.
Although 370 contacts of the casual cleaner have so far been identified, Dr Young said she was concerned some people still had not come forward.
She repeated requests for anyone who had shopped at Woolworths, Calamvale North, between 11am and midday on January 3; at Coles, Sunnybank Hills, on January 5 between 7.30-8am, or at the Nextra Sunnybank Hills newsagent between 8-8.15am on January 5 to come forward even if they had no symptoms.
They should "immediately" phone 13 HEALTH or visit a testing centre and let staff know they had visited one of those venues at the same time as the infected cleaner.
For information about testing clinics: health.qld.gov.au
Originally published as 'Appalled' Qld expert: UK vaccine strategy puts world at risk